When Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi came to the Dodgers after the 2014 season, the team was in ludicrously great shape.* They were coming off two straight NL West titles, the farm system was loaded, and the owners were willing to exceed the luxury tax as much as necessary in order to build a long-term winner.
*IN THE REGULAR SEASON
When Farhan Zaidi came to the Giants after the 2018 season, the ballpark had some very nice views.
So don’t think I’m arguing that there’s a Bellinger coming up from Sacramento tomorrow who’s going to carry the team for the next few years, or that Alex Dickerson is already that Bellinger, or that Alex Dickerson is actually better than Bellinger and Bellinger knows it and is ashamed that he’s even allowed to be an MVP frontrunner in a world where Alex Dickerson exists. I mean, I’m not not saying that, but I don’t have the evidence to claim it with 100% certainty, so we’ll just have to let that possibility be for a little while.
No, what Zaidi is doing so well this year that he also did in Los Angeles is finding contributors for nothing. There, it was Max Muncy and Chris Taylor, while here, it’s Mike Yastrzemski and Alex Dickerson and Donovan Solano. If you want to throw Kiké Hernandez into the Dodgers pile, feel free; he was one of a gaggle of Marlins prospects who went to LA in the Dee Gordon/Dan Haren selloff, but certainly not the main attraction.
Now, it’s not like the Dodgers hadn’t been scooping up free talent before Zaidi got there. Justin Turner was a Mets castoff at the beginning of 2014, and with the Dodgers he turned the transmogrifier to “All-Star” and jumped in. So Zaidi and Friedman don’t get full credit for him, or for that team’s ability to turn spin gold out of straw.
But what they do get credit for, and what Zaidi has continued doing well since he came to San Francisco, is playing to the strengths of the organization. He didn’t trade any of the jewels of the Dodgers farm system, and now those jewels are in the major leagues, being extremely shiny. The Giants have long been able to identify interesting-ish guys on minor league deals, and Zaidi has spent a lot of this year cycling through them in the majors until he found ones who stuck.
Now, Zaidi is acquiring that talent differently than he did when he was with LA. It’s about volume now, which the Giants can afford, because at the beginning of the year, they had so many roster spots that needed to be improved that they could cycle through player after player after player.
Connor Joe, Michael Reed, Mike Gerber, Mac Williamson? They got their chances, and fell short. The old Giants way would have been to plug in Gerardo Parra and trust he’d be good, but he too got his chance and fell short. So Reed got through waivers, Gerber got optioned, and the rest of them are gone. Yangervis Solarte got upgraded to Donovan Solano, which barely even affected the depth at AAA since the team signed Christhian Adames to a minor league deal, and he’s been raking too.
All those guys who the Giants let go of? This was the result that Zaidi had in mind. You go through 10 guys and find one Dickerson, whose inability to stay healthy has masked a solid major league bat. You pick up and jettison reliever after reliever, taking a look at every one, so your coaches can get wowed by Trevor Gott in the spring. You trade for a competent all-around player without any one standout tool like Mike Yastrzemski, and when he performs better in the minors than you expected, you see what he’s got.
It’s basically Moneyball, except instead of focusing on OBP, the Giants are focusing on Anything, Please, Any Talent At All, We’re Not Picky.
I was covering some game the Giants played in April — I don’t remember which one in particular — while the team was awful and the roster kept changing. Someone asked Bruce Bochy about it and I think he gave some answer about how change is difficult and you don’t want the roster to be like this, but then he said, “We have to get better.” He repeated it at the end of the answer. “We have to get better.”
What Zaidi’s been doing is methodically improving the team and making it better. It’s been exasperating if you have opinions on every member of the 40-man roster, and when the revolving door at the front of the clubhouse was really going, the players were pretty unhappy about it. But the change has been necessary. Even if they’ve played over their heads in July, the team is unquestionably better now than it was at the beginning of the year.
The Dodgers are replete with stars, and they’ve picked up complementary pieces around them who have turned out better than they could have imagined. The Giants don’t have anyone producing like the best players on the Dodgers, but even so, they have played themselves into respectability, and they have Zaidi’s many pickups to thank.